at gardening. Over the past ten years I have spent considerable time researching gardening techniques best suited for my location. One of the methods I discovered was a “keyhole garden” which is used in drought stricken countries with poor soil conditions. A few years ago I bought the necessary cinder block to build one but never was able to find the time to build one in time for spring planting. Finally, this year I was able to do so. Of course I had misplaced the book I had purchased on the subject (Deb Tolman’s Soiled Rotten) so was working off what I remembered from reading the book — as usual, a huge mistake. I marked the center of the garden.
I then marked off a circle six feet in diameter using the center as my guide.
The next step was to lay down hardware cloth (I have a serious gopher/mole problem). Even though I didn’t have enough on hand, I wanted to get an idea of whether or not I had enough cinder blocks (over the years the cinder blocks had migrated to other projects and while I had collected up as much as I could find I wasn’t sure if it was sufficient). So I laid down what I had of hardware cloth and then started building the base of the garden. Here is where I made my first mistake. Without the actual instructions I built the base layer trying to abut the cinder blocks flat against each other. First, that makes trying to create a circle very difficult and second, it uses more cinder block than what I had initially purchased. After counting the number of blocks used in the first layer I decided I was going to be woefully short and needed another 30 blocks. So a trip to town (in my new used truck) took me to the building supply business for 30 more cinder blocks, to the hardware store for hardware cloth and then to another store for a cheap and lightweight garden cart for moving manure, etc.
After unloading the cinder block from the bed of the truck, I realized that the new cinder block was much wider than the old block which meant that I couldn’t stack it on top and that I would have to dismantle what I had done and move all the old block out of the way. After moving way too many blocks, I finally got smart and started looking on-line for pictures of key hole gardens using cinder block and found a decent enough photo to show how to actually set the blocks. Once I set the new blocks correctly, it transpired that I didn’t really need the additional blocks and that my original amount would have been sufficient. Oh well, cinder block is always useful and if this is successful I may build another garden next spring.
So after putting the hardware cloth down and building the garden three blocks high I then pulled some tin cans from recycling and put some cans on the bottom. While the compost tube in the middle is usually made of wire, I was concerned about it collapsing when I filled in the garden so since I had an old trashcan around that I had cut holes into to make it into a goat hay feeder, I decided that the trashcan would work if I drilled more holes in the bottom and all around the side. (This is why those on farms rarely throw anything away – almost everything can be repurposed at some point in time.)
Now I was ready to start filling in the garden. One layer was old cardboard and then I layered in compost (manure from the sheep and goats mixed with old hay), followed by another layer of cardboard and then compost again.
Starting with the base layer of just hay, I heavily watered every layer before adding more. The compost tube had old hay put in first and watered well and then I added some food scraps. I am going to let the garden settle for about a week before either adding another couple of layers or just finishing it with top soil and then planting it. I need to cut some rebar so when I pound it in, it is just a few inches above the top of the garden. I will then bend some pvc pipe over the rebar to create a frame where I can put shade cloth or later in the season create a cold frame. I still need to clean up the hardware cloth around the edges as well, but if the garden works as advertised, I have a “keyhole” or cut out that allows easy access to the compost tube, the garden is designed to be drought resistant – initially it is watered on top but as it matures, the water will go into compost tube and percolate into the garden as needed, and everything planted can be easily reached. With luck I’ll have some great photos – and more importantly, great produce – from this garden over the summer.
After much angst, one of my acorn squashes finally matured. It certainly didn’t look like what you can buy in the store . . .It sat on my counter for a few days until I finally remembered to pull a package of frozen ground lamb from the freezer out in the pump house. Last night I opened the squash up and scooped out the seeds. While the oven was preheating, I sauteed some onions with the lamb burger and then added a few more ingredients. I then filled the squash with the ground lamb and baked for about 50 minutes (which was probably about 15 minutes too long as the squash basically pureed itself.) Dinner was excellent. (I had saved the outside of the squash for the hogs after I had scooped out squash and meat, but one of the dogs decided she really liked baked squash and ate most of it before I caught her.)
– not really, but the squash is definitely taking over the breakfast room. The breakfast room faces south and gets wonderful light which makes it ideal for growing over the winter months.
The peas I planted in an Earthbox in the Greenhouse are also doing well. This weekend I hope to put up a string trellis for the peas.
The previous owners of my place had left a metal gazebo screwed into wood strips, in turn screwed into the concrete pad. Over the years I kept telling myself I needed to take it down but never got around to it. A few months ago, I had a brilliant idea of turning the gazebo into a greenhouse. I also thought it could do double duty as an enclosed area to milk goats. The milking stand was on the deck, exposed to wind and rain, which translated into having to milk goats in the house in bad weather. However, in pricing out the polycarbonate sheets and other materials that would be needed, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to be a feasible project. It did get me looking at pre-fab greenhouses though and I found a Palram Nature Series Mythos Hobby Greenhouse on Amazon for a couple of hundred dollars less than it was going to cost me to convert the gazebo (and the shipping was free).
So I ordered the greenhouse and on January 29th it was delivered. The delivery driver put it over the gate and my first two thoughts were: 1) something was going to be broken and 2) the box wasn’t nearly large enough to contain a greenhouse the size I ordered.
The box was too heavy for me to lift so I unpacked it at the gate and placed each piece in the back seat of my car to transport down the drive. Amazingly, nothing appeared damaged as I unpacked the box.
While I have no doubt that I could have (eventually) put the greenhouse up by myself, thankfully a (more skilled) friend came by on the 31st to put up the greenhouse for me.In addition to the milk stand, there are now cinderblock and board benches with two earthboxes planted with peas and beets.
About 2 am the next day, the winds started to howl and blow. I lay there just waiting for the crash foretelling that the greenhouse had been blown into a tree or the pumphouse. However, the wooden strips screwed into the concrete which had held the gazebo in place were also able to keep the greenhouse anchored. Several high winds later, the greenhouse is still anchored and I have a sheltered area to milk goats as well as a chicken proof place to grow additional vegetables.
My Earth Boxes are great but. . . my breakfast room isn’t terribly large so my gardening efforts are limited. So when the Garden Tower Project was giving away a free Garden Tower at the end of the year, I entered. I didn’t win (no big surprise there) but I did get a good discount on a Garden Tower so I scrapped my budget and bought one of the new and improved versions of the Garden Tower to set up inside. Rather than a one piece barrel construction of the original version, this one is manufactured in pieces. The spaces to plant are larger and are easier to access; but the new feature I really like is that the new Garden Tower rotates.
The Garden Tower arrived last week so I went out and bought some casters and then went down to the local lumbar store and had a piece of plywood cut to use as a base for a dolly. I took the outer packaging to use as a template to ensure the plywood was the right size (but . . . forgot that the Garden Tower has feet which extend out from the base, oops). Once I put the casters on, I was ready to put the Garden Tower together.
I did have a few more acorn squash as well as some started radishes and lettuces, and some onions so I’ve started planting and photographs will be coming soon.
My spaghetti squash has been dutifully putting forth blossoms over the last few weeks. Initially all the blossoms were male but I finally found a female blossom and set to work to hand pollinate it. Squashes, unlike tomatoes, have male and female flowers and in the absence of bees or other insects that travel from blossom to blossom transferring pollen, growing indoors means that the gardener (me in this case) has to do the pollination.
A few more female blossoms appeared but no signs of squash and after much worry on my part that I had not effectively pollinated them, I finally found three small squashes.
I bought a spaghetti squash a few weeks ago. The organic ones were on sale for the same price as the non-organic so I bought an organic squash. It sat on my counter for about ten days before I finally decided to have it for dinner one night. I microwaved it for a minute to make it easier to cut open and when I opened it I discovered that most of the seeds had started to sprout. Wondering if I could actually grow spaghetti squash indoors this winter, I scooped out some seeds and threw them into a small planter. Lo and behold, the seeds (despite having been nuked) grew well.
However, it soon became obvious it was becoming root bound so I was faced with either losing it because it was root bound or potentially losing it to transplant shock. I opted to try to transplant it and I set up some earth boxes in the breakfast room. A couple of days after being re-planted it appears to be doing well. I’m hoping for some female flowers in the near future that I can pollinate.
As the spaghetti squash appeared to be a success, when I opened the non-organic acorn squash I ate for Thanksgiving up, I scooped out some seeds and planted those as well. I had just about given up on those seeds germinating when suddenly . . . .
Last night I planted some radishes and lettuce and placed the trays on a heating mat to help germination. I have several more earth boxes and with luck will be able to start enough seeds to plant them all this winter.
I think the Garden Tower may indeed be the solution to my gardening troubles.
I planted less than 1/3 of the tower. One plant (the eggplant) gave up the ghost early on. Something ate one of the squash plants – not just nibbling on the leaves, but actually removing the stem. Some pretty caterpillars have been munching on the parsley, but . . .